Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Music For Writers #9: Neil Williamson

Music For Writers this week features none other than Neil Williamson, a writer whose work I always both admire and enjoy. I recently read his BSFA-nominated novel The Moon King and (all to be predictably) loved it; you'd do well to check out his short story collection Secret Language too.

Based on the below his taste in music—and films, and creepy French TV shows—is spot on too.

Take it away, Neil:

As a writer who works mostly in public spaces, I started using writing music initially as a means of boxing my attention off from my environment. With the right music and noise cancelling earbuds, I find I can dial into the right mindset for thinking about my story and getting the words down on the page even when people are talking and doing things around me. It has to be the right kind of music though: something that in itself won’t be distracting (my best writing sessions are the ones where I’ve barely been aware of the music). This usually means no words and no huge dynamic or stylistic shifts. I used classical music for years, but these days I’m turning more and more to modern TV and film composers.

Here are some of the perennials on my Spotify playlist:


Olafur Arnalds - Only The Winds
Arnalds’ composing style is the perfect example of what I look for in writing music. It’s evenly tempered and paced with enough body to block out most background noise. It’s also heartbreakingly evocative. See also: his soundtrack to the TV show, Broadchurch.


This Will Destroy You - Dustism
For louder environments, I tend to turn to post rock. I first saw This Will Destroy You at Glasgow’s Art School at around midnight after a long day of watching various bands. They utterly melted my head. This track is typical of their ocean-like blend of layers of noise and musicality. Blast this up to 11 and nothing gets through.



Max Richter - The Departure Suite
Richter has rightly found favour in the genre community for his wonderful soundtracks for the likes of Arrival (along with Johann Johannson) and Black Mirror, but I really adore this soundtrack for the TV show The Leftovers. 'The Departure' is a recurring theme that turns up now and again in different arrangements and I find it really transportational. Maybe one day I’ll find time to watch the actual show.


Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - Song For Bob
Several years ago I went to see a cowboy movie starring Brad Pitt. Several people left the cinema within the first half hour on realising that it wasn’t “a cowboy movie starring Brad Pitt”, it was The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, a nuanced indie movie about hero-worship featuring terrific performances from Pitt as well as Casey Affleck and Sam Rockwell (who is never less than terrific in anything). One of the best things about the movie is the lonesomely plaintive soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. (Cave actually turns up as a barroom troubadour late on in the film too.) I recommend both the film and the music wholeheartedly. 




Mogwai - The Messiah Needs Watching
Kind of coming back to post rock here, but not really. It’s been interesting watching Mogwai explore their composing chops in a succession of soundtracks in recent years. This is from the first one I heard them do, the spooky French TV show, Les Revenants. It was a toss up between this and Atomic. Both full of great music, absolutely band on the brief for their projects but still unmistakably Mogwai.



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